Newsletter Article

James LauRae: A Hunger for Knowledge Leads to a Very Full Plate

Photo: James LauRae
Photo: James LauRae

Psychology has always interested me because I've always found people fascinating.  Whether "people watching" or just trying to figure out my own sense of self and develop my self-awareness, life has often seemed like a crash course in psychology.

     James LauRae (Senior, pursuing BS in Psychology)


James LauRae is a doer, but, you might not know it upon first meeting him.  He's hardly the "go-go-go" Type A personality that we usually associate with those among us who somehow have the capacity to take on a dizzying number of tasks or projects.  Rather, James is the kind of person whose easy-going manner and congeniality make you want to kick back with him and have a nice chat.  A study in contrasts: with people, he takes his time, gets to know you, but give the man a new opportunity or a job that needs doing and he's on fire!

Upon his arrival at UW, James enrolled in a class for first quarter transfer students.  The Psychology Transfer Academic Community class (TRAC), gives transfer students with the opportunity to gain an in-depth orientation to the Psychology Department and major, to learn about the wide range of resources available to psychology majors, and to build community with fellow transfer students.  "Because our transfer students arrive with only two or three years to spend at UW, they really need to hit the ground running," explains TRAC instructor and Psychology Advising Office director Carrie Perrin, "so we endeavor to expose them to all of the terrific options and possibilities that are available."  The thing about James is, he chose to take on all of those possibilities!

During his first four quarters at UW, James began a pre-med course of study in addition to his psychology BS coursework, got involved in undergraduate research, assisted with summer orientation for incoming transfer students, studied in Chile with psychology professor Dr. Jaime Olavarria, served as a peer TA for the 2013 TRAC class, and began the first steps in the establishment of a new non-profit agency.  His simple advice to others, "Get involved in as many things as interest you!  While you may not like them all or may find you overload yourself a bit too much, this really teaches you a lot about yourself."

Whether or not a particular experience revealed itself to be the start of a future pathway, James definitely took something valuable away from each opportunity.  Initially frustrated by the unexpectedly slow pace of work in a research lab, James stuck it out and was rewarded both by more intriguing work and by the realization that research psychology was perhaps not in the cards for him long term.  And, connections made at his Harborview lab have been an additional perk.  "I've gained invaluable connections with Dr. Kate Comtois," says James, "and, I've had the opportunity to speak with people from prospective medical schools, as well as the chance to shadow various doctors in a variety of settings." 

As far as "slam dunk" positive experiences go, James points to Dr. Jaime Olavarria's Exploration Seminar in Chile.  James was part of a group of students who traveled to Santiago, Chile, as well as more rural areas to the south, to study public health policies and health delivery systems in that country.  James notes that the opportunity that he had to compare US societal norms and values with those that he experienced in Chile actually informed how he plans to run his non-profit organization, Homes for Students of Higher Education.  "My own reflections on the contrasts between US and Chilean cultures have inspired me to develop in my organization a collectivist approach--essentially, encouraging the community to engage with and assist those in need," explains James.

Informed by his own experiences with hardship and homelessness, James (along with fellow UW undergraduate Dustin Levesque), founded Homes for Students of Higher Education in early 2014 to bridge the gap that is disconnecting disadvantaged and homeless college students from the services that may benefit them.  With plans to encourage a high level of student engagement in the organization, James aims to foster the kind of community involvement that he witnessed while in Chile.  "We are all guilty of taking things for granted, but we can change this with just a little effort," says James.  "By encouraging the theme students helping students," he continues, "our organization will continue in a long, successful tradition of building a strong sense of community and appreciation for one another."

With a goal of furthering his education in medical school, with a likely area of specialization in psychiatry, and a desire to see his non-profit grow and perhaps serve as a model for others across the nation, the full plate that is James's life looks to stay that way into the forseeable future.